We’ve heard it time and time again from our dentists or hygienists: floss daily for healthy teeth and gums. But if you need more incentive than a scolding every six months, consider this: studies show a connection between oral health and heart health.
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease. In fact, one study found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities, and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.
What’s The Connection Between Plaque And Heart Disease?
While we use the word plaque to describe the stuff the hygienist scrapes off your teeth and the deposits that clog arteries and cause heart attack or stroke, the two are completely unrelated. So what could the connection be?
One suspect getting a lot of attention is inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s defense mechanism against infection and often includes swelling. It’s possible bacteria from the mouth travel through the body causing blood cells to swell. This swelling could narrow an artery and increase the risk of clots, leading to heart attack or stroke.
This possible connection between the body’s response to bacteria in one area, like between the teeth, and problems in another part of the body, like the heart, adds to data researchers have gathered that suggests more and more diseases, including periodontal disease, heart disease, and arthritis, are partially caused by the body’s own inflammatory response. Preventing the growth of bacteria between your teeth through flossing could then cut the risk of inflammation elsewhere in the body.
Fun Fact: There’s evidence that floss existed in prehistoric times, and that horse hair was used to dislodge objects from between the teeth.
A Connection To Diabetes
If that’s not enough to get you reaching for the floss, research has also emerged suggesting a relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes. And that relationship may go both ways — gum disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar, and people with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes, probably because diabetics are more susceptible to contracting infections.
If you already have certain health concerns, flossing may help protect you from further complications. If you are fit as a fiddle, flossing regularly is a habit that can help keep you in tune.
While we may not know exactly how flossing relates to overall health, you really have nothing to lose by running some minty string between your teeth every morning. You may not be guaranteed perfect health, but you will get a pat on the back from your dentist, and I’ll take that which beats a scolding any day.